Former SANDF sergeant challenges case brought years later

2009-11-19 00:00

A FORMER South African National Defence Force (SANDF) sergeant, George Wright Coetze, is challenging the right of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to charge him with attempted murder for a shooting incident that occurred more than a decade ago, on August 21, 1998.

The charge has been temporarily withdrawn against Coetze in the Dundee Regional Court, pending the outcome of an application by him for a permanent stay of prosecution, which was argued before Acting Judge Angus Stewart yesterday.

According to court papers, the DPP’s decision to prosecute Coetze for the attempted murder of soldier Lucky Moses Mtshali was taken in 2005, after the SAPS provincial task team at Newcastle was asked by members of the community to “look into matters where there appeared to be racial favouritism”.

In 2001, a senior public prosecutor at Vryheid decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Coetze.

However, state advocate Adele Janse van Vuuren submitted yesterday that a decision not to prosecute a person can be reviewed if there is an indication that the “initial decision was clearly wrong”.

She said it is common cause that the case was “resurrected” after members of the local community approached the police.

It was only at that stage that it was brought to the attention of the DPP, who decided that the initial decision not to prosecute was clearly wrong, she said.

“There is indeed sufficient evidence on oath to warrant the prosecution,” she submitted.

Responding to submissions by advocate Marius van Zyl of Pretoria, that requests by members of the public should not be the motivation for decisions by the DPP to institute prosecutions, Janse van Vuuren said the request by the public was merely the reason why the matter was first brought to the attention of the DPP.

The decision to proceed with the prosection was taken by state advocate E.M. Matanda on October 25, 2005.

However, Coetze made his first court appearance only on July 17, 2006, as he was initially in Zambia and police could not locate him.

Thereafter, the case was postponed on a number of occasions.

Van Zyl argued that the delay by the state in deciding to prosecute Coetze was unreasonable and prejudicial to him.

He said two potential state witnes­ses have since died, and, in addition, Coetze has been diagnosed with a brain tumour, resulting in memory loss.

He said witnesses cannot be expected to give detailed and accurate testimony of events that occurred in 1998.

It was also submitted on behalf of Coetze that the prosecution is currently in possession of “notes” taken by a member of the SANDF, who was assigned to defend Coetze soon after the incident, and which are alleged to be “privileged” information.

Following the decision to charge him, Coetze has chosen to remain silent.

According to an affidavit by the investigating officer, Captain Lucky Masuku, the complainant in the case [Mtshali] has alleged he was in a room with others listening to music, when three officers entered and an altercation ensued.

He jumped out of a window, was chased by two of the officers and shot and injured. He did not know who fired.

A security guard, Daniel Ntuli, has made a statement to the effect that Coetze took his R4 rifle during the course of the chase, and that he then heard a shot. He did not see who fired.

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